How to calm down sensitive skin

If your skin is ever red, reactive, flares up, breaks out or all of the above, then you need to read this. Having successfully calmed down her own sensitive skin, LA dermatologist KARYN GROSSMAN shares her insights and soothing tips with NEWBY HANDS


Know your triggers

“Most of us know the normal flare-up triggers, like exercise, heat, tea, coffee, alcohol and spicy foods, but for some it can be dairy, chocolate or gluten,” says Dr Grossman. “And then there are the less well-known triggers: avocado and strawberries are two that I’ve found patients can have a problem with. Confusingly, these may not come up if you’re allergy tested, but they can still make your skin worse.” Elimination diets don’t always help with this – instead, Dr Grossman suggests keeping a food diary to link what you eat with flare-ups.

Defend your barrier

“Sensitive skin always has a damaged barrier, so any further disruption will aggravate it twice as much,” says Dr Grossman. That includes tempting spa and clinic treatments, plus those we love to DIY at home. “Scrubs are definitely a trigger: the larger, coarse grains can irritate even a normal skin. I prefer to use a gentler approach like a Clarisonic cleansing brush, or a soft facial brush from Shiseido or Sisley – and always follow with a barrier-repairing hydrating cream as this helps decrease sensitivity.” Dr Grossman suggests using BHAs rather than AHAs, “although all peels disrupt the barrier”. Retinoids can also be a problem: “Some people can tolerate them if used less often and not at prescription level; I find I can use retinoids that are combined with powerful anti-inflammatories more consistently.” She also advocates using only a peel or a retinoid, never both, and recommends a softly, softly approach to treatments including micro-needling. “It’s less problematic if done no more than monthly and by using a barrier repair cream straight after, but I see real issues when done at home more frequently,” says Dr Grossman.

Sensitive skin 911

No matter how carefully you police your cosmetics bag, skin regimen and daily diet, sensitive skin will flare up “and often for no apparent reason,” says Dr Grossman. “When this happens, I use cool water and a gentle washcloth to clean my face, and then apply a cold compress to bring down the heat. I often use decaffeinated green tea in the compress as well. When it feels calmer, I may use some aloe gel or a light hydrocortisone cream if my skin’s still pink.”

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